A lone wolf stands out on the horizon near Bondurant in 2017 in this photograph by Wyoming Game and Fish Department communication and information specialist Mark Gocke. (Mark Gocke/Wyoming Game and Fish Department)

An environmental advocacy group intends to sue unless the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest takes steps to safeguard Colorado wolves that venture across state lines onto federal land in Wyoming. 

“When Endangered Species Act-protected wolves in Colorado cross that invisible border and land in Wyoming, then they’re in the predator zone, and don’t have protection,” Center for Biological Diversity staffer Collette Adkins said. “That’s the problem that we’re seeking to remedy by putting pressure on the Forest Service.”

Pressure is coming in the form of a “notice of intent to sue” the Center mailed U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Forest Service leadership on Feb. 22. Medicine Bow-Routt officials, who declined an interview for this story, citing the litigation, have 60 days to respond or may face a lawsuit.

Wolves disappeared from Colorado’s Southern Rockies by the 1940s, and it’s only recently they’ve started to reestablish. Those first pioneering animals repopulating the state are protected by the ESA, which no longer affords protections to Wyoming wolves reintroduced 28 years ago.

Crossing the state border back into Wyoming has proven deadly for the few pioneering wolves that have successfully dispersed to the Southern Rockies, where wolf reintroduction is planned for 2024

Three wolves from the first modern-day wolf pack confirmed in Colorado were reportedly shot in Wyoming in 2020.  The group of animals primarily made their home in Moffat County not far from the Wyoming border. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement officers investigated that boundary killing incident, WyoFile has confirmed, and the inactive case was recommended for closure. Because the federal agency hasn’t formally closed it, however, related files remain unretrievable through the Freedom of Information Act. 

Wolf 1084, pictured, was a member of Wyoming’s Snake River Pack before departing south and dispersing all the way to Colorado. A coming lawsuit seeks to protect pioneer Colorado wolves that wander across the border into Wyoming’s free-fire predator zone. (Colorado Parks and Wildlife)

Wyoming’s predator zone has continued to be deadly for Colorado’s few famous wolves, some of which already navigated through the zone once to make their way south. The Centennial State’s second modern-day wolf pack, the North Park Pack, lost three of its suspected subadult female members to Wyoming predator zone killings in 2022, according to the Center for Biological Diversity’s notice. 

Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials confirmed those wolf killings well outside of Wyoming’s normally occupied wolf range, but didn’t provide details. A statute on the books in the Equality State restricts officials from releasing information about legally killed wolves.

“We do know of harvest down in southern Wyoming in the predator area in 2022,” Game and Fish Director Brian Nesvik told WyoFile. 

More information, Nesvik said, will be available in Wyoming’s annual wolf report, which publishes in the spring. 

Typically, wildlife falls under the jurisdiction of the states, which complicates and challenges the Center for Biological Diversity’s planned lawsuit. Adkins argued that the Forest Service can take action. 

“It’s very clear that the federal government can preempt state laws,” she said. “There’s the Endangered Species Act, but also other federal laws that speak to how national forests are to be managed — and those do take priority over state laws.” 

The Center’s notice cited an example of a federal land manager trumping state law to manage hunting. The Thunder Basin National Grassland is doing just that, the document pointed out, by seasonally banning recreational prairie dog shooting in some areas. Notably, that eastern Wyoming federal grassland is jointly administered by the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest. 

But there are big distinctions, Nesvik said, between the group’s wolf hunting request and the prairie dog hunting closure. 

“That was a very specific agreement that was negotiated between the local public, all the agencies involved and the governor’s office,” he said. “It was an agreement more than some kind of a moratorium.” 

The Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest includes approximately 1 million acres in Wyoming. (Center for Biological Diversity)

There are three non-contiguous blocks of Medicine Bow-Routt forestland that the planned litigation will target. They’re spread across more than a million acres in the Snowy Range, the Sierra Madres and the Vedauwoo areas. The coming lawsuit, Adkins said, will target only the national forest, not Wyoming’s predator zone where it falls on private or state land or Bureau of Land Management property. 

“This lawsuit doesn’t hinge on the federal status of wolves in Wyoming, what it hinges on is the fact that wolves are protected in Colorado,” Adkins said. “You’ve got federal land that straddles the border. It really doesn’t make any sense to have wolves safe from hunting on one side and shot on sight on the other.” 

Wyoming policy groups wolves with other species classified as “predators” in 85% of the state designated as the predator zone. Those include coyotes, red fox, skunks, stray domestic cats, raccoons and non-predacious porcupines and jackrabbits. All can be killed indiscriminately, without limit and regardless of season and with few restrictions on methods

The predator zone policy effectively hems wolves into the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in the northwest corner of Wyoming, where the species is classified as trophy game that’s managed scientifically and is allowed to persist. 

Colorado’s few pioneer wolves that have navigated Wyoming’s predator zone and made it to safer confines south of the state boundary are not significant from a population perspective, said Mike Phillips, a former federal wolf biologist and Montana state senator who was a member of Colorado’s wolf reintroduction advisory panel.

“I’m of the mind that gray wolves were never going to be represented in Colorado by a viable population … by animals wandering out of Wyoming,” Phillips said. “The only way that Colorado would be populated by a viable group of wolves — 250 or more — is through purposeful re-introduction.” 

That very thing is on the horizon. Colorado’s draft wolf plan calls for importing 30 to 50 gray wolves from Northern Rocky states like Wyoming over three to five years beginning next year. 

“If needless killing is not wrong, nothing’s wrong. So if this lawsuit can help stop needless killing, I’m all in.”

Wolf biologist mike phillips

Still, Phillips spoke in support of what the Center for Biological seeks in its planned complaint: wolf safeguards from Wyoming’s predator zone policy.

“If needless killing is not wrong, nothing’s wrong,” Phillips said. “So if this lawsuit can help stop needless killing, I’m all in.”

Mike Koshmrl reports on Wyoming's wildlife and natural resources. Prior to joining WyoFile, he spent nearly a decade covering the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s wild places and creatures for the Jackson...

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  1. i viewed the three wolves that were killed in wyo. They were beautiful. Its a shame they were shot. I include the entire moffat county pack that was wiped out as well. I always thought they should remain protected . its time to step out of the dark ages and bring back wolves and protect those that already here.I am a long time jackson county property owner and hiker,

  2. There is a sickness spreading around the country that it’s OK to indiscriminately kill wildlife for no particular purpose other than human entertainment. I thought we were done with this disturbing mentality a century ago.

  3. I understand that the wolf is not protected in Wyoming now but to have the North Park pack wander across the border to Wyoming and kill the Pups because he or she (hunter or rancher) wants personal glory for manhood is idiotic. As a big game hunter, I see no satisfaction in killing a wolf or wolf pup. It sure wasn’t for yhe meat nor mounting trophy.
    I do believe southern Wyoming is very familiar with the media about this pack and found it necessary to shoot them because YOU CAN? Nice thinking!
    Can’t wait for the introduction.

  4. Colorado needs to employ best available science which in this case is radio collars for individual wolves. Wyoming’s wolves are closely monitored by Game and Fish on a wolf by wolf basis and also on a pack basis. Colorado’s monitored wolves could be prevented from entering Wyoming by timely intervention when they approach the state line. We spend major money in Wyoming managing our wolves and this expenditure will never end – its ongoing – however, we have the most successful wolf management program in the US. Colorado needs to manage their wolves on a daily basis and commit to the necessary dollars.

  5. CBD is completely missing the point, intentionally, I’m sure. The Wolves in Colorado are a Colorado problem. Sue Colorado, where the problem exists. Wyoming does not have a Wolf “Problem”, we have Wolf management policies that work for Wyoming. Take a comprehensive look at the Wolf issue, please. They’re released in Yellowstone and 15 years later some have migrated into Colorado. Colorado does nothing. Roughly the same release timeframe, Mexican Gray Wolves are released into Southern Arizona and Southern New Mexico. Some of these migrate into Southern Colorado. Again, Colorado does nothing. Obviously, the state of Colorado is the common denominator. Start there. None of these are unintended consequences. Predator behavior dictates they continually expand their range. This is a known variable. Just wait until Colorado releases their own! Havoc in 10 years or less. The Center for Biological Diversity(CBD) has filed many obstructionist lawsuits over the years. Who funds those? We all do, through the Equal Access Laws. Please, don’t believe me, check it out for yourself. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Thank you.

  6. Wolves naturally wandering in to the state will definitely help with biodevsity as the reintroduction beginning this year hopefully expitd
    Expositing this project in the near future

  7. So CBD believes that because they’re protected in Colorado, they’re protected nationwide because of the “invisible borders”!? So all they need to do is have one state protect them and all states must abide?
    They’re beyond idiotic stance should be aggressively fought by Wyoming.

  8. Protect the wolves and all other species that man has decided to destroy. Reintroduce them to their habit and force man to find away, with his enlarged brain, to coexist. Shouldn’t be hard when hate and greed are not leading the thought process. Thank you,
    Michael Henderson
    Rye, Colorado

  9. Sounds like Colorado needs to secure their northern border and keep Colorado wolves in Colorado ,our invisible lines are clearly defined in Wyoming. Maybe sticking with smoking a bowl in Denver should be a bait for these border crossing Lobo killers. These intended Yellowstone residents are way off the intended line of restoration , similar to the Grizzly story.

  10. As bad as Colorado’s mule deer population is I don’t think now is a good time to be introducing wolves that will just hurt the population even more

  11. Unfortunately man disrupted the eco system hundreds if years ago wiping out predators and their prey causing an imbalance that will never be put right by natures standards. Kudos to those game and fish agencies trying to make it work through controlled hunting, but once they introduce a viable predator population how will they ever control the hunting of those designated predators?

  12. Just imagine if these anti-hunting groups actually cared about wildlife and habitat. If they spent millions of dollars on fighting invasive weeds, prescribed fires, fence removal, etc, instead of lawyers, just imagine how much more wildlife we would all have to enjoy.

    1. They do care, enough to protect them from extermination by trigger-happy fearful yayhoos. Without lawsuits from people who care you would be headed for a gigantic, toxic dump ground to recreate yourself in.

    2. I can’t believe that some will back an idea without any understanding, or concerns for future consequences. Wolves are an apex predators, they are at the top of the food chain. Translation, no natural means to control their population. Some will cite the right to life for all living things, have you seen the video of a wolf ham stringing a pregnant cow Elk. After the mom is crippled the wolf continues the attack her in order to remove and consume the unborn calf. Have you seen the Elk herd that was all killed for sport by wolves? To say wolf’s dont kill for sport is just unfounded. We in Wyo will protect our resources, regardless of law or feelings. Just you wait till pets start being targeted by these animals, we’ll see how you feel then. Do what you will in CO, but don’t expect Wy to tolerate your politically motivated wildlife management decisions.

  13. Oh yes! First wildlife management by the ballot box and now by lawyers! It will never stop! Wolves are easy to love, from a Distance!

  14. “If needless killing is not wrong, nothing’s wrong. So if this lawsuit can help stop needless killing, I’m all in.” Who defines needless killing? If Wyoming’s predator management policies equate to needless killing then that is disputed by the many wildlife biologists employed by Wyoming Game & Fish. Wyofile prominently featuring this quote without rebutting gives the impression that you are proponents of Mike Phillips’ philosophy. And thereby you appear to be in favor of out-of-state advocacy groups trying to impose Colorado’s values and wrong-headed wolf policies on Wyoming.

  15. Far too many people want to live in the “old west” with someone else having to deal with the problems. Bet those people would scream like a mashed cat when the wolves caught and killed their little “Fifi” dog or cat. Yet they figure the wolves should be able to kill sheep, calves, colts, dogs, cats, etc belonging to ranch families.

    1. Name a ranch family in Southeast Wyoming that has had their livestock hurt by wolves. I ask because I know you can’t. Making a blanket statement like yours is easy to check on. Prove your claim, and I will support you.

  16. I recently had to purchase a rifle as hundreds of prairie dogs are destroying my pasture. Mostly because their predators have been shot or poisoned. My research foray into gun culture was depressing to say the least. It’s sobering that there are SO many people, mostly white men, who live to blow animals up, as evidenced by the damned for ammo that literally “explodes” an animal, how may animal parts fly into the air how far apart. The glee expressed in killing is frightening.

    1. Kerry hunters do not intend to blow up animals into bits of meat flying in air. Most parts are considered delicious and the fur isn’t usable if destroyed so excellent marksmanship is key. Now blowing up critters on your pasture is a different thing it sounds like hypocrisy.

  17. 85% of Wyoming is a “predator zone”? So in addition to wolves, skunks, jackrabbits, cats, raccoons, foxes, and porcupines (?!) can be killed indiscriminately? By whom? Ranchers? Farmers?
    For what purpose? I don’t get it. If you choose to make your life in rural areas near national forests, you must accept the wildlife around you as part of the natural environment. If they raid your hen house, build a better fence to keep the predators out.

  18. Wait until all those easy “needless killings” of sheep and cattle start happening. Not to mention the elk and mule deer herds. Won’t be long and some tree hugger will get grizzly reintroduction on the ballot and those will be voted in by the city dwellers as well.

      1. Haven’t you people ever heard of the Pittman – Robertson Act of 1936 as Amended. This Act placed excise takes on all firearms, ammo, and archery gear to be returned to the individual states for wildlife habitat improvement. Both for game and non-game animals. In 2020 Colorado received $25,093,903 for game and fish habitat improvement. The number of licenses sold in a state helps determine that states share of the pot. WOLVES AND GRIZZLIES DON’T PAY A CENT TOWARD COLORADO’S HABITAT IMPROVEMENT PROGRAMS, THEY JUST LIVE OFF THE BENEFITS SOMEONE ELSE PAID FOR! SOUNDS A LITTLE LIKE SOCIALISM TO ME.